NFL

In writing Seau bio, ESPN NFL reporter Trotter learned great deal about his friend

Junior Seau (left) introduced himself to Jim Trotter when Trotter was just starting out on the San Diego Chargers beat in the 1990s. (Photo courtesy of Jim Trotter/ESPN)
Junior Seau (left) introduced himself to Jim Trotter when Trotter was just starting out on the San Diego Chargers beat in the 1990s. (Photo courtesy of Jim Trotter)

Trotter[1]

ESPN NFL reporter Jim Trotter first met San Diego Chargers Hall of Famer Junior Seau in 1996. Trotter had been named the team’s beat writer for the San Diego Union-Tribune when the veteran linebacker called him over in the locker room to introduce himself.

Seau gave the newbie reporter his number and told him to call if he ever needed anything. Though he thought it was a prank, Trotter eventually called and realized it was, in fact, Seau’s voicemail. After Trotter left a message and received a quick call back, he knew Seau was genuine.

Trotter, who still lives in San Diego, covered Seau throughout a majority of his career and knew him as well as anyone. Last week, Trotter’s biography, Junior Seau: The Life and Death of a Football Icon, was released. He discusses the project and his relationship with Seau, who died in May 2012, below with Front Row.

You initially turned down several requests to write a book about Seau. What made you eventually decide to author this biography?
I did turn down several inquiries to write a book about him following his death. But those close to him told me that if anyone was going to write his story, they believed he would’ve wanted me to write it. At that point, I decided I wanted to tell his story. I was clear in my own mind that it would not be a tell-all, but instead a book to explain why he was so beloved by so many people, and to explore some of the factors that might have led to his death.

What was the most compelling interview you conducted?
The interviews with his daughter, Sydney, and his son, Jake, were particularly compelling and heart-wrenching, because it was difficult to fathom how Junior could be so loving and so generous with his time to everyone else, but couldn’t/wouldn’t/didn’t give that same time to his kids, even though they kept telling him how much it would mean to them. My interview with [Seau’s former Chargers teammate] Rodney Harrison was also compelling. [Harrison] for-the-record said what some of the people closest to Junior wanted to say but wouldn’t, and that was that [Junior’s] so-called friends – the ones he frequently partied with – were enablers more than they were friends. That they’re kidding themselves when they say they couldn’t see that Junior was on a destructive path.

How did you approach doing this book?
The process was simultaneously simple and difficult. It was simple in the sense that I had a front-row seat for much of his playing career and was familiar with his story, having already written about some of the key moments in his career. The difficulty was managing my time while also working a full-time job. Many of the interviews were done around my work schedule, and in 2013 I took a brief leave of absence from Sports Illustrated [Trotter joined ESPN in May 2014] and used my accrued vacation to do more research and begin the writing process.

What surprised you most in your research?
The depths of the problems he was dealing with. Although we were friends, I didn’t hang out with Junior, so I didn’t witness many of the demons he was fighting. But once I started doing the research, I was blown away by what I learned. He clearly was hurting. He was living on the edge, whether it was drinking, gambling, partying, whatever. His personality also was changing; he’d be smiling and laughing one minute, then have a blank stare and looked depressed the next. But in the snap of your fingers he’d return to the happy-go-lucky guy.

I also was struck by his admission to his ex-wife and daughter that he no longer knew how to feel or be loved. That’s an incredible statement from someone who, for much of his life, gave so much love and happiness to those he came into contact with.

ESPN's Reiss collaborates with former Patriot Troy Brown on bio
Patriot Pride COVER

Jim Trotter isn’t the only NFL reporter balancing a book release with the regular season: ESPN NFL Nation reporter Mike Reiss, who covers the New England Patriots, has helped former Patriots star Troy Brown on telling Brown’s life story. Patriot Pride, with a foreword by quarterback Tom Brady, traces Brown’s path from modest beginnings to becoming one of the NFL’s most versatile and reliable players.

Reiss tells Front Row what readers will glean from Pride: “Troy was always one of the smallest players growing up, so dreams of an NFL career were far-fetched. He was lightly recruited out of Blackville High School (S.C.), earning only a $500 scholarship to Lees-McRae Junior College in Banner Elk, N.C. Then he was lightly recruited out of Lees-McRae, with only Marshall University expressing any level of interest, and that was only because an assistant coach was there to recruit another player and kept having his eyes drawn to Troy instead.

“That pretty much sums up Troy’s entire football career; he was the ultimate underdog turned Patriots Hall of Famer, a player who quarterback Tom Brady feels so strongly about that he explains in the foreword of the book his mind-set of ‘When in doubt, get it to Troy.’ In the book, Troy details the differences between playing for three Super Bowl-winning coaches – Bill Parcells, Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick – and how he briefly considered an offer from the rival New York Jets at the end of his career. In the end, he said joining the Jets just didn’t feel right.”

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